When I was about seventeen, I was attended a soiree. That’s right, not a party—a soiree. “Who is invited?” I had asked. My brother and sister who were sure the invitation included me, though that wasn’t completely evident. They were friends of the family hosting the event and I was an acquaintance of theirs. I put on my satin skirt and a black top, my mom gently suggested I put a little effort into my hair and we took the long drive to their secluded home.
It was Christmastime, there was wassail on the stove and horse devours on the coffee table and a shining grand piano that it would seem every guest knew how to play, but me. Everyone was very nice and I enjoyed my wassail and the live music, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was out of place. The group seemed very exclusive and I couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t been invited at all.
Have you ever felt that way? It’s not the most pleasant feeling.
Now imagine receiving an invitation to a big, wonderful party (or soiree!) There is sure to be food and drink, live music and games, lots of laughing and talking and good times. Anyone is welcome, but you have to bring an invitation, and invitations are sent out at request. Would you consider this an exclusive party?
This is similar to a question a lot of people have about Christianity. If God is good, if God is love, how can He “send people to hell”? If you really loved people, you would be more tolerant, more inclusive. All people should be able to go to heaven when they die, right?
First of all, don’t take my word for this. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, emphasis mine.) It doesn’t take a scholar to interpret that verse. The great news is, everyone is welcome into the Kingdom of God, but there is only one road, one gate, one key that we all must use.
The Bible doesn’t just say, “God is loving,” it says “God is love.” (1 John 4:8.) That means that everything He does is love, even his “severe mercies” as Elisabeth Elliot called them. Making only one “key” to heaven’s gate, that excludes all of the other keys we could possibly try, and that’s done out of love for us. He isn’t trying to trick us, there is no riddle. There’s just one key. And the other keys? The key we make ourselves, the key someone else presses into our hands, the key we found somewhere along the way–they won’t turn the lock.
There was a time when God spoke to people only through occasional prophets on misty, glowing hilltops. He gave us the law carved in stone, there was no “buts” about it and we were swallowed by the earth if we failed to live up to those expectations. He was already Love, but His love for had not been consummated on the cross, yet. Out of love, He showed us that we cannot work for love. Love that we have to work for is not love at all. He chose a high priest, a Jewish man of a certain line, to communicate with Him. Communication was more tense than any meet-the-parents dinner. The priest entered God’s presence only once a year, and with so many particulars, Moses wrote an entire book of instructions based on God’s words to Him. The priests wore a rope round their waist when in God’s presence so their dead body could be dragged out if God struck them down for some reason (no one else could enter The Holy of Holies to retrieve him.)
When Solomon built the temple, the people who wished to worship were segregated into several sections. The Most Holy Place was for The High Priest only. Beyond that was the Court of the Priests. Beyond that was a court where men were allowed. Then there was a court outside of that for women. Beyond that was The Court of the Gentiles were non-Jews were permitted to enter. (Here’s a little diagram.) The curtain that hung in front of the Most Holy Place was a physical and spiritual barrier between God and you and I. (Personally, I am not a priest or a man or a Jew.)
However, when Jesus died, a miracle occurred.
And then Jesus cried out once more, loudly, and then He breathed His last breath. At that instant, the temple curtain was torn in half, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)
I can’t get over the way the author of Hebrews puts it:
So, my friends, Jesus by His blood gives us courage to enter the most holy place. He has created for us a new and living way through the curtain, that is, through His flesh. Since we have a great High Priest who presides over the house of God, let us draw near with true hearts full of faith, with hearts rinsed clean of any evil conscience, and with bodies cleansed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
The curtain that God Himself instructed man to create, was torn in half by the power of God’s love. His message was loud and clear: all are welcome in His presence, in his family and in His unending love. Men, women, Jews, Gentiles…absolutely everyone.
That doesn’t undo what Jesus said about Himself. He is still the only way into God’s presence. We must come through he new and living way, through His flesh. That’s the only way we can have “true hearts, full of faith…rinsed clean of any evil conscience.” The party I was speaking of, is still invitation only. But there’s a catch: the invitation is open to anyone. As a matter of fact, when you come to the door empty handed, Jesus opens the door and gives you His own invitation to use as passage.
All you have to do is come to the door, knock and say, “I don’t have an invitation, I can’t get one on my own. But I want to come into the party and I know you can help.”
“It will not be just the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who celebrate at their heavenly banquet at the end of time. No, people will come from the East and the West—and those who recognize Me, regardless of their lineage, will sit with Me at that feast.” -Jesus Christ, Matthew 8:11